Bubbleville Preview: Villanova
One game in and the 2020 basketball season already has a clear theme: survive and adapt. Hokie coach Mike Young had to scrap his Temple game plan, as the Owls were forced to pause all basketball activities following a positive Covid-19 test. Their new opponent? No big deal - just the number 3 team and title contending Villanova Wildcats. There is no better way to test the resilience and heart of a young roster than to play the number 3 team on just one day's notice.
Only a few hours after their convincing win over Radford on Wednesday, the Hokies boarded a plane to Uncasville, Connecticut. Alongside over 30 teams from throughout the country, the Hokies will play two games in what has been coined “Bubbleville.” The Jay Wright led Nova team already has two wins under their belt against fellow ACC foe Boston College and the #18 Arizona State Sun Devils. The Wildcats were looking to add a third game in Bubbleville and the Hokies fell right into their lap with Temple being sent home.
The Scouting Report
Despite being ranked #3 in the preseason top 25, Villanova hasn’t really gotten the buzz they deserve. They are one of the most fundamentally sound teams in the country and have virtually zero weaknesses. It is no accident that they have two championships in the past five years with serious hopes of adding a third this March. They return four of five starters and nearly all of their production off the bench. They will certainly miss leading scorer Seddiq Bey who was taken with the 19th pick in the 2020 NBA draft, but they have more than enough talent to make up for it.
Similar to Virginia Tech, the Wildcats start a smaller lineup. Their backcourt is led by senior Collin Gillespie, who was given the keys to the Wildcat offense from Coach Wright. Gillespie is the leading returning scorer and the undisputed leader on this Wildcats team. The 6’3” guard led the team in assists with 4.5 per contest last season and has dished out 11 assists in just 2 games thus far. Considering the similarities in role and play style between Gillespie and Virginia Tech guard Wabissa Bede, the veteran matchup between the two leaders is certainly a highlight for fans watching the game.
Despite a history of star guard play, Villanova boasts a talented frontcourt this season as well. This includes returning starters Jermaine Samuels and James Robinson-Earl, who are both capable of handling the ball and can run the floor: a necessity for a big man in a Jay Wright lead offense. They set a high volume of ball screens, which lends their offense well to both the screen and roll and pick and pop. While they are both a threat on the offensive side of the ball, James Robinson-Earl will command most of the Hokies’ attention on defense - which in my opinion makes him the must stop player for this game.
Must Stop Player
Coming into the season, Jay Wright was likely wondering who would step in to be his go-to guy following the departure of Saddiq Bey. Through just 2 games this season, it looks like he found that in Robinson-Earl. He is your prototypical modern big man: he can score it from all three levels and is willing to put the ball on the floor to create offense for himself. He is lethal in the high post, as he can spot up to shoot it or drive to the rim. Therefore, he should be the main focus for Mike Young in game planning.
This game should be a 3-point storm, as both teams rely heavily on shooting from behind the arc. Last season, Virginia Tech and Villanova were both top 10 in the nation in point distribution from 3-point land, meaning 43.1% and 40.6% (KenPom.com) of their points came from behind the arc, respectively. Nothing has changed thus far for the Hokies as they put up 26 shots from three, knocking down 11 in their first game. If Virginia Tech wants to hang with the Wildcats, they need to be consistent from behind the arc.
Virginia Tech had a really tough time on the boards against Radford, giving up 10 rebounds on the offensive glass. It will be crucial for the Hokies to win the rebounding battle if they want to come out on top. The key to the game for the Hokies will be to get transition buckets. Like our familiar rival Virginia (who I might add was upset by unranked San Francisco), Villanova likes to control the pace and slow it down to their liking, making it important for the Hokies to not let Nova get too comfortable in the half-court. I am excited to see who Mike Young gives the bulk of the minutes to, as it was apparent that he was toying with different lineups against Radford. I am intrigued to see who Coach Young thinks will give Tech the best chance to win, as we were not anticipating an opponent of this caliber until conference play in December. Hokie fans should be excited as this is a great test for this squad and will really show us what kind of team we can expect to have for the remainder of the season.
Mohegan Sun Arena